Past Exhibitions

2017

Silhouette over Harper's print
Kara Walker: Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)
This exhibition of prints from SAAM’s collection features the artist’s provocative take on the Civil War.
October 13, 2017March 11, 2018
Thomas Wilfred's light sculpture Unit 86
Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light
Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light restores Thomas Wilfred (1889–1968) to his rightful place in the history of modern art. This pioneering light artist invented a new art form that was among the first successful fusions of modern art and technology. Recognized as radically innovative, he was included in the influential 1952 exhibition 15 Americans at the Museum of Modern Art alongside Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still. His work continued to resonate with later generations of light and media artists, among them James Turrell, who acknowledge Wilfred’s influence on their own thinking about light and art.
October 6, 2017January 7, 2018
Parallax Gap by FreelandBuck
Parallax Gap
Parallax Gap transforms the Renwick Gallery’s Bettie Rubenstein Grand Salon into a visual puzzle. This immersive, site-specific installation explores examples of interplay between craft and architecture through a ceiling-suspended structure running the length of the Renwick’s iconic gallery. The installation embraces both Eastern and Western concepts of perspective through trompe l’oeil effects and multiple vanishing points to create a sense of soaring architectural volume.
July 1, 2017February 11, 2018
Donald Sultan's painting Early Morning May 20 1986
Donald Sultan: The Disaster Paintings
Sultan’s Disaster Paintings echo the drama of their subjects in their large scale and great physicality. The series presents a confluence of seeming dichotomies, merging the materials of Minimalism with representational painting, stylistically combining figuration and abstraction, and making references to high and low culture, ranging from topical events drawn from newspaper imagery to nineteenth-century art-historical iconography.
May 26, 2017September 4, 2017
Photograph of children playing in the water from a fire hydrant by Hiram Maristany
Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography
America’s urban streets have long inspired documentary photographers. After World War II, populations shifted from the city to the suburbs and newly built highways cut through thriving neighborhoods, leaving isolated pockets within major urban centers. As neighborhoods started to decline in the 1950s, the photographers in this exhibition found ways to call attention to changing cities and their residents. Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography explores the work of ten photographers—Manuel Acevedo, Oscar Castillo, Frank Espada, Anthony Hernandez, Perla de Leon, Hiram Maristany, Ruben Ochoa, John Valadez, Winston Vargas, and Camilo José Vergara—who were driven to document and reflect on the state of American cities during these transformative years.
May 11, 2017August 5, 2017
Senator Kennedy waving from car
American Visionary: John F. Kennedy’s Life and Times
President John F. Kennedy’s administration coincided with a golden age of photojournalism in America— and no single politician was photographed more than Kennedy. Photographers and newsreel cameramen used images of Kennedy and his young family to convey a vision of a new America—a sophisticated world power engaged in building a bright future for its citizens. Kennedy, in turn, understood the power of pictures to convey his message to voters and was a willing partner in crafting his public persona to help build support for the space program, the Peace Corps, legislation on civil rights and immigration, equal pay for women, federal health insurance for the elderly—initiatives that would ensure a more diverse and egalitarian America.
May 3, 2017September 17, 2017
Media - 1983.79 - SAAM-1983.79_2 - 115897
Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years
Originally trained as a functional potter, Voulkos defied mid-century craft dictums of proper technique and form. In 1955 he began to experiment with increasingly unconventional works inspired by a variety of influences including Abstract Expressionism, Japanese pottery, and the artworks of Franz Kline, Henry Matisse, and Pablo Picasso.
April 6, 2017August 19, 2017
Crowd of people
Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image
Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image is a series of rotating exhibitions drawn from SAAM’s permanent collection. The works of art featured in this installation identify a complex relationship between still photography and moving images. These artistic engagements with captured and recorded pictures examine notions of storytelling and processes of interpretation, underscoring just how relative meaning can be, and urging viewers to question where the power of imagery might reside. Taken together, the arrangement traces a vibrant call and response between artists and pictures, narratives, and interpretation.
March 11, 2017March 18, 2018
Ceramic square structure with yellow interior base with lighter top and red exterior coloring.
June Schwarcz: Invention and Variation
Pioneering artist June Schwarcz (1918–2015) was one of the most innovative enamelists of the 20th century, creating a remarkably varied body of work over a career spanning more than 60 years. Her technical innovations combined with her inventive and unorthodox designs set new standards for enameling, establishing her as a leading voice in American art who influenced a new generation of artists.
March 10, 2017August 26, 2017

2016

Media - 1976.108.33 - SAAM-1976.108.33_2 - 123040
Gene Davis: Hot Beat
Brightly colored stripes multiply in rhythmic repetitions across the surface of a painting by Gene Davis. Remarkably original when they first appeared in the 1960s, these paintings became the signature expression for one of the leading Color Field painters. With no more than a rectangular canvas and multicolor stripes, Davis created a richly varied body of work that looks as fresh today as it did when it first was shown. The large size of most of his canvases from the 1960s requires a viewer to consider the relationships and rhythms over time, more like a musical composition than the dynamic, colorful, pop art images that emerged at the same time.
November 18, 2016April 1, 2017
Sculpture Grey Sun by Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/​Modern
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was among the most innovative American sculptors of the twentieth century, creating works that were far ahead of his time. His design for Sculpture to Be Seen from Mars (1947) anticipates the space age by several decades. Yet Noguchi frequently found inspiration in ancient art and architecture, from Egyptian pyramids, to Buddhist temples and Zen gardens, to American Indian burial mounds. The exhibition Isamu Noguchi, Archaic/Modern explores how the ancient world shaped this artist’s innovative vision for the future.
November 11, 2016March 18, 2017
Media - 2016.29.3 - SAAM-2016.29.3_1 - 124404
Watch This! New Directions on the Art of the Moving Image (5.0)
Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image is a series of rotating exhibitions drawn from SAAM’s permanent collection. The works of art featured in this installation identify a complex relationship between still photography and moving images. These artistic engagements with captured and recorded pictures examine notions of storytelling and processes of interpretation, underscoring just how relative meaning can be, and urging viewers to question where the power of imagery might reside. Taken together, the arrangement traces a vibrant call and response between artists and pictures, narratives, and interpretation.
September 8, 2016March 6, 2017
Burgeon
Visions and Revisions: Renwick Invitational 2016
Visions and Revisions presents the work of Steven Young Lee, Kristen Morgin, Jennifer Trask, and Norwood Viviano, four artists who take innovative approaches to their selected mediums and who share a fascination with themes of transformation, ruin, and rebirth.
September 8, 2016January 16, 2017
Media - 1967.59.1118 - SAAM-1967.59.1118_1 - 2924
Artworks by African Americans from the Collection
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to an extraordinary collection of artworks by African Americans with more than 2,000 objects by more than 200 artists. From William H. Johnson’s vibrant portrayals of faith and family to Mickalene Thomas’s contemporary exploration of black female identity, SAAM’s holdings reflect its long-standing commitment to black artists and the acquisition, preservation, and display of their works.
August 31, 2016February 28, 2017
Media - 1983.63.135 - SAAM-1983.63.135_2 - 122826
Harlem Heroes: Photographs by Carl Van Vechten
At the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964) picked up a camera and discovered the power the photographic portrait has over the photographer himself. Over the decades, his fascination with the medium remained strong and he asked writers, musicians, athletes, politicians, and others to sit for him—many of them central figures in the Harlem Renaissance whose accomplishments fueled not only the New Negro movement but also transformed the broader American culture throughout the twentieth century. These groundbreaking men and women included James Baldwin, Ossie Davis, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ella Fitzgerald, Althea Gibson, Langston Hughes, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Bessie Smith, and others. Some of the portraits capture their subjects on the cusp of success as they were full of ambition but before they became famous; others depict men and women looking back on long and varied careers, tested by the fickleness of fortune.
August 25, 2016April 1, 2017
Media - 2015.17 - SAAM-2015.17_1 - 118050
Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery
This summer the permanent collection returns to the Renwick Gallery with a dynamic new presentation of 80+ objects celebrating craft as a discipline and an approach to living differently in the modern world. The installation includes iconic favorites alongside new acquisitions made during the museum’s renovation, which will be displayed at the museum for the first time. Nora Atkinson, The Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, selected the objects and conceived the innovative presentation.
June 30, 2016February 20, 2018
Media - 1966.49.1 - SAAM-1966.49.1_2 - 124667
The Art of Romaine Brooks
Romaine Brooks (1874–1970) lived most of her life in Paris where she was a leading figure of an artistic counterculture of upper-class Europeans and American expatriates, many of whom were creative, bohemian, and homosexual. Brooks crafted an androgynous appearance that challenged conventional ideas of how women should look and behave, and these ideas extended to many of the portraits she painted in the 1920s, which are some of her best known works.
June 16, 2016October 1, 2016
Media - 2002.18 - SAAM-2002.18_1 - 63582
Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions
Martin Puryear (b. 1941) is widely celebrated for his elegant but playful sculptures and his devotion to craft. His drawings and prints are less well known, but they are equally essential to the artist’s studio practice. Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions is the first exhibition to draw back the curtain on that practice and offers an unprecedented look into Puryear’s inspirations, methods, and transformative process.
May 26, 2016September 4, 2016
Media - 1983.63.1193 - SAAM-1983.63.1193_1 - 52101
No Mountains in the Way: Photographs from the Kansas Documentary Survey, 1974
In 1974, with a grant of $5,000 from the NEA, No Mountains in the Way was organized by Jim Enyeart, then curator of photography at the University of Kansas Museum of Art. He and Kansas natives Terry Evans and Larry Schwarm—all artists who have attained considerable achievement in the intervening decades—travelled the state, photographing whatever struck them as representative. 
February 26, 2016July 30, 2016

2015

Media - 2014.50.1.4 - SAAM-2014.50.1.4_5 - 116527
Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image (4.0)
Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image is a series of rotating exhibitions drawn from SAAM’s permanent collection. The works of art featured in this installation identify a complex relationship between still photography and moving images. These artistic engagements with captured and recorded pictures examine notions of storytelling and processes of interpretation, underscoring just how relative meaning can be, and urging viewers to question where the power of imagery might reside. Taken together, the arrangement traces a vibrant call and response between artists and pictures, narratives, and interpretation.
December 4, 2015August 27, 2016
Media - 2016.11 - SAAM-2016.11_6 - 124929
Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery
Connections is the Renwick Gallery’s dynamic ongoing permanent collection presentation, featuring more than 80 objects celebrating craft as a discipline and an approach to living differently in the modern world. The installation includes iconic favorites alongside new acquisitions.
November 13, 2015March 6, 2022
Dawe's Plexus A1 displaying an array of colors with Dougherty's Shindig made of bend twigs in the background
WONDER
Nine leading contemporary artists—Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin, and Leo Villareal—each took over different galleries in the building, creating site-specific installations inspired by the Renwick. Together, these installations turned the building into a larger-than-life work of art. WONDER was organized by Nicholas R. Bell, The Fleur and Charles Bresler Senior Curator of American Craft and Decorative Art.
November 13, 2015July 9, 2016
Media - 2001.38 - SAAM-2001.38_1 - 63291
Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection
American artists in the twentieth century were deeply influenced by European modernism. Crosscurrents: Modern Art from the Sam Rose and Julie Walters Collection features stellar paintings and sculpture by major American artists Alexander Calder, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Georgia O’Keeffe, Wayne Thiebaud and others alongside European giants such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. The exhibition examines what chief curator Virginia Mecklenburg describes as a “river of intellectual and artistic commerce that flowed both ways between America and Europe.” Crosscurrents is organized by Mecklenburg and features several gifts to the museum as well as artworks that are rarely seen by the public.
October 29, 2015April 9, 2016
Bee, New York
Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty
Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty, the first retrospective of Penn’s work in nearly twenty years, celebrates his legacy as a modern master and reveals the full expressive range of his work. The exhibition features work from all stages of Penn’s career—street scenes from the late 1930s, photographs of the American South from the early 1940s, celebrity portraits, fashion photographs, still lifes, and more private studio images.
October 22, 2015March 19, 2016
Media - 1979.144.41 - SAAM-1979.144.41_1 - 5719
The Modern Pueblo Painting of Awa Tsireh
The paintings of Awa Tsireh (1898–1955), represent an encounter between the art traditions of native Pueblo peoples in the Southwestern United States and the American modernist art style begun in New York, which spread quickly across the country. Tsireh, also known by his Spanish name, Alfonso Roybal, decorated pottery as a young man on the San Ildefonso Pueblo near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Later, at the encouragement of Anglo patrons, he translated the forms and symbols of his pottery designs into watercolor paintings on paper. His stylized forms echoed the Art Deco aesthetic that was so popular between the two world wars, and his linear compositions appealed to modernist sensibilities.
September 3, 2015January 31, 2016
Media - 1968.155.1 - SAAM-1968.155.1_3 - 80074
Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave
This one-gallery exhibition reveals the inner workings of the studio of Hiram Powers (1805–1873), who was among the most innovative sculptors of the nineteenth century, eagerly adapting long-standing sculpture traditions to new technologies of his age.
July 2, 2015July 8, 2017
Media - 2010.23 - SAAM-2010.23_1 - 73854
Watch This! Revelations in Media Art
Watch This! Revelations in Media Art presents pioneering and contemporary artworks that trace the evolution of a continuously emerging medium. The exhibition celebrates artists who are engaged in a creative revolution—one shaped as much by developments in science and technology as by style or medium—and explores the pervasive interdependence between technology and contemporary culture.
April 23, 2015September 6, 2015
A painting of a woman sitting down and reading 'Le Figaro'
Special Installation of Nineteen American Masterworks
Integrated within the chronological flow of the museum’s permanent collection, these masterworks from Gilded Age, Impressionist, and Ashcan School painters will help to tell the story of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries in America, a “coming-of-age” period in American art. Mary Cassatt’s renowned Reading 'Le Figaro' is joined by major paintings by George Bellows, Martin Johnson Heade, John Singer Sargent, John Sloan, William Glackens, John La Farge, Everett Shinn and others.
April 17, 2015August 16, 2015
Media - 1986.6.50 - SAAM-1986.6.50_3 - 135165
The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi
Kuniyoshi emigrated to America from Japan as a teenager, rising to prominence in the New York art world during the 1920s to become one of the most esteemed artists in America between the two world wars. He drew on American folk art, Japanese design and iconography and European modernism to create a distinctive visual style. Kuniyoshi defined himself as an American artist while at the same time remaining very aware that his Japanese origins played an important role in his identity and artistic practices.
April 2, 2015August 29, 2015
Media - 2013.8.28 - SAAM-2013.8.28_1 - 88697
Mingering Mike’s Supersonic Greatest Hits
The Mingering Mike collection comprises artworks constructed as part of the artist’s youthful fantasy of becoming a famous soul singer and songwriter, including LP albums made from painted cardboard, original album art, song lyrics and liner notes, self-recorded 45 rpm singles and more, all tracing the career of a would-be superstar.
February 27, 2015August 1, 2015